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Freezing Tomatoes for Winter Dishes

Freezing Tomatoes for Winter Dishes

It’s always bittersweet to see the blueberry season end in August and the tomato season end in October. Relief that the harvesting is over, but sorrow that the fresh bounty used in cooking is also coming to an end. Freezing tomatoes (and blueberries) is one of the best ways to preserve both the flavor and the nutrition so that they can be enjoyed all throughout the winter. Drying tomatoes is also a win for winter dishes. Here are some “how-to” directions for freezing and drying the wonders of heirloom tomatoes.

Basket of different heirloom tomatoe varieties
A range of different heirloom tomato varieties

Freezing Tomatoes Whole:

For simplicity, there’s nothing quite like freezing whole tomatoes.  All I do is wash and dry the tomatoes, pop them into Ziplock bags, squeeze out as much air as possible, and throw them in the freezer.  I’ve read suggestions to peel them first, but I find that the skins pull off easily as they thaw and/or cook, and with the peel on, they are more easily separated when removed from the freezer. 

I primarily freeze Roma tomatoes since I tend to use them in pasta sauces, chili, and other dishes in which their meatier nature is a plus, but any variety can be frozen whole.  Because slicer-type of tomatoes have more water and juice in them, the skins will pull off the Roma types much easier without losing the tomato meat.

Freezing tomatoes: a freezer bag of smoked Roma tomatoes
Freezer bag of smoked Roma tomatoes

Freezing Tomatoes as Pesto or Sauces

If you have the time to make batches of pesto or tomato sauces, this is another way to preserve the bounty. A little more work on the front end, but less work in the winter when you pull out a bag of frozen sauce ready-to-go.

This is particularly true with pesto, as the basil purchased in summer at the farmers’ markets is much cheaper and fresher than what you can get at the store in winter. Basil freezes well and doesn’t discolor as much when frozen as pesto.

A great ingredient list for pesto from Marcella Hazan is:

  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of pine nuts
  •  2 garlic cloves
  • per 2 cups of tightly packed basil leaves
  • salt to taste
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan and
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly grated Romano added before serving.

Freezer Tomato Sauce:

Of course, tomato sauce is a classic use of end-of-the-season tomatoes, and it freezes well. For the recipe for a bold, robust tomato sauce called Puttanesca, click here.

The following recipe is a tried and true classic, published in the August 13 “Dining” section of the New York Times as part of their remembrance of Julia Child on the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday.  It is an adaptations from Julia Moskin and it is a slight simplification of a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1.

Coulis de Tomates a la Provencale

(Tomato Sauce with Mediterranean Flavors)


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup minced yellow onions
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 5-6 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
  • Herb bouquet: 8 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf and 4 sprigs thyme tied in cheesecloth
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil, oregano, marjoram or savory
  • Large pinch saffron threads
  • 12 coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 2-inch piece dried orange peel (or ½ teaspoon granules)
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)

1. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat.  Add onions, sprinkle with salt and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned.  Sprinkle on flour and cook slowly for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally; do not brown.

2. Meanwhile, fit a food processor with the coarse grating blade. Working in batches, push tomatoes through feed tube to make a coarse puree.

3. Stir tomatoes, sugar, garlic, herb bouquet, fennel, basil, saffron, coriander, orange peel and 1 teaspoon salt into pot. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, so the tomatoes will render their juice. Uncover and simmer for about an hour, until thick. The sauce is done when it tastes cooked and is thick enough to form a mass in the spoon. Remove herb bouquet and taste. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and tomato paste, and simmer two minutes more. Sauce may be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months. Yields about 1 quart.

Drying (or Dehydrating) Tomatoes:

picture of Principe Borghese heirloom tomatoes drying outside on a rack
Principe Borghese heirloom tomatoes drying outdoors

For another great way to preserve those heirloom tomatoes for winter, you can dry tomatoes in a food dehydrator (or the sun depending on where you live). Click here for details on how to dry tomatoes, and recommendations on which tomato varieties are best for drying.

Purchased Tomato Jams, Sauces & Chutneys:

Of course, if you want to turn the preserving over to someone else, you can always purchase a Smoked Tomato Jam, a Romesco Sauce, a Smoked Tomato Shrub Syrup, or a range of chutneys using tomatoes from HeathGlen’s Farm Kitchen.

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Lesley Hey

Saturday 18th of June 2016

Can I use plastic containers?

dorothy stainbrook

Monday 9th of September 2019

Sure Lesley. Just leave some headspace in whatever container you use as the contents will expand in the freezer.

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